Blueprint for a Chapter

Hi.  I hope you’ve read my previous post about using a Blueprint for your memoir or fiction story.  (If not, you might click on the link.)

Bones of the Blueprint in Review:

  1. Character’s status quo.
  2. What happens to change or destroy that?
  3. How does the character (you in a memoir) try to fix the new challenge?

(Note:  For this post, I’ll call our sample main character “Jimmy”)

Okay, so now let’s take this Blueprint concept and apply it on a smaller scale.  Instead of the whole story, let’s talk about a blueprint for each chapter within your book-length novel or memoir.

Pull Them In and Don’t Let Them Go!

Let’s say you’ve completed Chapter 1 (rough draft, I presume) where you’ve set up a beginning to your story:  Let’s say Jimmy’s camping (status quo).  He falls over a steep cliff and is hanging on knowing if he falls he could end up in the ICU at best.  This is Jimmy’s status quo: an event that changes Jimmy’s life in some important way which happens immediately—soon enough in Chapter 1 to pull in your readers and keep them interested enough to stick around to find out what happens next.  And Jimmy spends the rest of Chapter 1 trying to figure out how to save himself.

A Real Cliffhanger!

Now you’re on to Chapter 2, which begins with a new status quo inherited from Chapter 1.  Chapter 2 picks up with the new state of things (new status quo), resulting from the cliffhanger (in Jimmy’s case, literal) events with which Chapter 1 ended. 

Now, something else must happen to change that new status quo. (while he’s hanging off the cliff, trying not to let go, an aggressive bird comes by?)

Then, for the rest of Chapter 2 your readers are with your character, chewing their fingernails, wondering how Jimmy will work through this new challenge (that bird, that cliff).  (You could also have a subplot running, such as: he just quit smoking and needs a cigarette, but that’s fodder for another blog post.)

Readers will cringe as they picture Jimmy swinging helplessly while his problem gets worse and worse, the harder he tries to solve it (in trying to dissuade the bird, Jimmy manages to attract the aggressive bird’s larger friends?) before Chapter 2 ends with a new cliffhanger.

Compounded Interest (Your Readers’)

And just as Jimmy thought he had Chapter 2’s problem figured out (while dangling by one hand and fishing in his pocket with the other for a cigarette, he finds that easy-open can of tuna he’d brought along and attempts to throw it to the birds?) here comes a new problem, giving Jimmy something new to figure out, only to become even more perplexed and endangered by Chapter 3’s end, thereby further compounding his problem(s).  

And from there to Chapter 4, which starts with a new status quo, his now compounded problem (the birds are vegetarians?) brought on from Jimmy’s (failed) attempts in Chapter 3, and on from there.  Get the idea?  And yes, I feel sorry for your character, which is the whole point, and your readers will, too. 

Let Their Dinner Burn!

As each new problem leads to another, with each new status quo being changed or destroyed right before the next chapter, your readers can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next, and will therefore burn their dinners because they couldn’t put your book down.  And this is the whole purpose of writing your book—to get otherwise normal, organized people to burn their dinners because they couldn’t put your book down.

Holograms R Us        

Each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter feeds the larger work.  As you write each chapter of your book, the blueprint for the larger story of your novel or memoir will begin to take shape—the blueprint for each chapter a microcosm of the macrocosm of the whole book. 

Using your blueprint within your chapters, each one will be complete in and of itself with a beginning, middle, and an end.  Like holograms, they are perfect reflections of the larger story as a whole, except that at the end of the last chapter of the book your cliffhanger will finally be resolved…

o

r

n

o

t.

(We’ll miss you, Jimmy).      The End.

Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!

Quick Tips on Memoir, off the top of my head

Definition:  Memoir is about an incident in my life, not my whole life which is an autobiography.  Also, memoir is “softer” than autobiography in that it tends to be more about impressions regarding events than hardcore reportage of the details of the events themselves.

Educate your reader:  Don’t assume, if you’re writing about some legal matter, for example, that your readers will find it boring if you divulge enough to let us in on it, but not too much that it turns into a college course.

Don’t depress your reader:  Even the saddest story has its bright spots.  Write with some lighthearted relief among the heavier moments and even some humor if and when appropriate, remembering that often the best humor is directed at yourself.

Tell me a story:  Memoir is nonfiction; but always remember you’re still telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. How were things to begin with? Then what happened to change them? Then what did you do, and how did it go? How did it all turn out? Did you learn anything?

Not therapy:  Even if it feels like therapy to write about a tough time in your life, don’t let that come through to your reader. This is a memoir not a psychiatrist’s couch.  Hold back raw anger.  Work that out in a journal before you start writing your memoir. Just tell us what happened and allow us the intelligence to figure things out.

Not me against them:  It’s easy to think back on an event and see ourselves as the only reasonable ones present at the time (me good, them bad), but be realistic and honest (dare I say, mature?) in your telling of the story, including those times you wish you’d acted differently. This adds depth not only to the story but also to you, the main character in it.

Be factually correct:  This is true with all writing.  Don’t insult your reader by not checking factual info before publishing.  Was that town, where my car skidded on the ice and I broke my leg and the orthopedist turned out to be my future husband, in California or Nevada?  Use the internet to look it up if you are not sure.

Be tough:  It’s not easy to go back over past events that were anything less than joyful in the experience.  Be sure you’re willing to do so, or the story may come out stilted.  I think it was Mark Twain who said if you’re not crying while you’re writing, your reader won’t cry when he reads it (he said the same about laughing, too).